Friday, September 16, 2011

Genre Elitism

I was tired already. I'd been up since 3:30 a.m. and had been at work for over twelve hours with another five hours to go. Never at my best then.

That's when I got some new feedback on my book. And it wasn't even just about my book, my writing.

It was about my genre.

I have SciFi and YA Fantasy WIPs I'm working on. But my first WIP, the one I've invested nearly two years of my life on, my learning project, the one that makes my hubby cry when I read him a new revision, is an adventure romance.


Intellectually, I know this is a subjective business. I know there are many (all right, lots) of people who sneer at romance as a genre. Even now I'm not sure why the condescending tone of the feedback hurt so much. At that moment I wanted to sit down and cry. My instinct was to quit.

Yeah. Yeah. I get it. Honest.

If I'm really going to be brave and put my work out there, I need to be thick skinned.

And well padded.

Having a little armor wouldn't hurt.

A safety net might be a good idea.

What about you? Have you faced genre elitism or bias before? Are there people, either readers or writers, who seem to think the quality of their writing is better if only by virtue of their genre?

 Encouraging Feedback

When I posed my discouragement to a writers group I'm a member of through my church, I received some wonderful insightful comments about the nature of romances. I've listed them below if you're interested. Some of the comments are quite profound, imho.

Tiffany Graybill Williams
You need to talk to Donna [Hatch]. She had a woman thank her for her romance novel. It helped her escape while her son was going through cancer. It's a great story! We were all given many many talents and we shouldn't waste them. Keep writing your romance, it brings joy and hope, and I'll keep writing my fantasy, and together we'll turn our 1 talent into many talents we can share with the world.

Shelli Proffitt Howells
... God did not give you the talent and the compulsion to write without a reason. ... Your values shine through your writing, and those values can have a wonderful impact on a huge audience through romance novels. Don't let anyone discourage you!!!

M.d. Christie
People can be so abrasive and judgmental. It really ticks me off that people can be so ignorant. There is nothing wrong with romance and your talents are no less important than a philosophical writer. (((hugs))) keep on keeping on! You uplift many!!!

Theresa Small Sneed
Don't give xxx your 'peace' ... xxx can't take anything away from you that you don't consent to - so know that xxx's simply wrong, for whatever reason, and KNOW that what you are doing is absolutely wonderful and essential ...

Pamela Stott Williams
Don't be intimidated! Romance is good. Romance is rich. Romance helps us keep commitments and aim for ideals. Nobody should be better at writing about the most important personal relationship in life than Latter-day Saints. We understand what eternal marriage means, and we understand that choosing an eternal companion is the most important decision we make. We were individuals in premortality, but we came here to form family ties that we take with us into eternity. That's a good thing to discuss in literature!

Joan Sowards Every story needs a touch of romance!

Joyce DiPastena
Donna, there is a world of women out there searching for clean romances to read, and there are increasingly oh! so few places to find them! These readers need you. They need what you write. They need to know they can open a romance book and feel "safe" when they do so. You can help to give them that. Don't give up and don't let others depress you. If some of us don't write clean romances, where are these readers to go?

Donna Hatch
Romance has always gotten a bad rap. Those naysayers are the noisy minority. Shake them off. I know tons of women who need an escape from their crummy lives and they get it through a good romance novel. I'm one of them. And I get emails every week from people who love having an escape where two people beat the odds to get together. In preparation for a conference class I'm teaching on romance, I polled my FB friends. Here's what one person wrote: "The good ones show how important and life altering being loved and loving can be. We do things we wouldn't have considered before and make decisions that seem foolish without the existence of life-altering love and commitment. Love can bring out our better selves and inspire us to reach beyond ourselves." Amen.

Wendy Archibald Jones 
One of my favorite lines in the LDS remake of Pride and Prejudice is when Darcy (who owns the publishing company) and Elizabeth (who submitted her manuscript) are having a conversation. She says, "It's NOT a romance." And he says, "It's not a put-down, it's a category." It's a category that people LOVE to read! Keep on keeping on, despite the doubters.

Heidi L Kleinman Murphy 
Tell xxx to lighten up. Romances can help us learn what right to say and what NOT to say and do. Romances can be an escape not only for people in crummy marriages, but for people in good ones too. Everybody needs to play dress-up once in a while or they get all stale and need to be tossed out with the old bread.

Susan Aylworth  
Forgive xxx for xxx ignorance. We all know that not all romances are soft porn bodice-rippers, but not everyone else does. Love xxx. Educate xxx if you can, and let xxx comments wash off like gentle rain. :-)

Susan G. Haws  
Donna,I don't know the stats but Romance is a big industry. Everyone, even people we love have their prejudices, that does not make them right. Romance writers bring a lot of happiness, escape and comfort to a world in need of happy endings.

Canda Mortensen  
Personally, I only like fiction that has some romance. Oh--and a great story.

Sarah Miller Eden  
I wrote something of a rebuttal to this kind of comment on my blog back in April: It happens all the time, Donna. It used to really, really upset me. I've gotten much better at brushing it off and moving forward knowing that what I am doing is worthwhile.

Heather Horrocks Author  
It's most hurtful when xxx attacks and downgrades what we do. Sometimes it's a subconscious you're-going-for-your-dream-and-I'm-not things. Remember that you will find the fans who love your books and are uplifted by them - and most of your xxx will not fit into that category (though most are more gracious than xxx). Oh and stick your tongue out at xxx, at least in your mind : )
Claire Enos
haha I would really stick my tongue out at xxx but then I'm only 19 so I still act immature a good percentage of the time lol

And from one of my critique partners
Melanie Macek
You've gotten too much good feedback on this book to let one person - xxx or not - derail all your hard work. That's why none of my xxx have read it. They say they want to, but I don't want to see the rejection. If xxx acts like that with your book, I'd hate to see xxx reaction if xxx read a romance that had been kicked up a notch or three!

I have a feeling you're close to xxx ... Sleep on it, do NOT let it sway you. I bet in a day or two, it will end up being fuel to get through those last edits. Just imagine the look on xxx's face when that agent requests your book. You can hand xxx an autographed copy!!!!!!!

How's that for encouragement?


  1. Oh yeah definitely. People love to feel superior to other people. That is human nature. Some live to look down their nose at others.

  2. That's some amazing advice those ladies gave you.

    And yeah, there's a reason romance is the biggest chunk of both the LDS and national markets. Because your naysayer is, as someone put it, in the tiny but vocal minority.

    There's a major critic who took on my first novel and said I was a good writer but she hated my book. She's well-known for hating my genre so why would she keep reviewing it? I don't know. But I know I don't have the energy to put the bad vibes out there. Soak up the good ones those ladies sent your way and take pride in doing what you do. So many people appreciate the effort to put the great stuff out there.

  3. You are writing the most popular genre and best selling genre of the lot, so no need to worry. More romance is bought than anything else!

  4. That's a great support group you've got there. The unfortunate thing is it only takes one negative person to bring you down and make you feel like a steaming pile. I guess the best thing to do is to look and see if there's anything usable at all in that person's comments and forget everything else he said. Have a good weekend.

  5. I had a couple blogger friends volunteer to beta read Caged Graves when I was working on it, then back out when they discovered it had a historical setting. It was kind of a reverse snobbery -- as if a historical setting would be too intellectual ... or maybe just boring. That kind of hurt.

    But the fact is, most people have some genres they don't like to read (for me, memoirs & poetry are two examples). The problem is when people take a personal preference and turn it into a sweeping and snide condemnation of an entire genre.

  6. Oh yes, oh yes. I write women's fiction - chick lit. I can't tell you how many times people have dismissed it outright. I'm used to it now, but it still bothers me a bit.

  7. I don't think one genre is "superior" to another. We may find one more interesting than the other, but that's not a value judgement, that's an opinion. Opinions have no value except to the one who owns the opinion.

  8. One, don't worry. Not everyone will like your writing style or the genre you write.

    Two, I put my learning experience into competitions. Three judges gave their comments. If they all agreed on anything. My ears perked up and I listened. I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't.

    Three, listen to your own gut. If you doubt what you've written so will everyone else.

  9. All of those comments are excellent, and I'm sure they made you feel better, but the MOST IMPORTANT thing to hang you hat on is the fact that YOUR writing made your hubby cry. That says a lot. Like a gold star seal of approval.

  10. Oh, yes. Romance and fantasy both get disrespected. People always need to feel superior. But so what. We write what we write, and both of those genres are what sells.

  11. Another little tinkle of the bright side you can consider is that, if someone is criticizing your WIP for its genre, then you obviously have a coherent piece of fiction that is solid enough to be scrutinized based on both subject and substance. That's 100 steps ahead of many aspiring writers. Keep it up!

  12. Donna, I'm sorry someone didn't like your story. I'm cursing in your name as I'm typing this. I know the sting...thick-skinned or not it still sucks. I don't write romance (because I'd wind up writing erotica, I just know it), but I do love to read romance. It's a delicious genre. And if this is the same story you asked me about way back, I thought the concept was interesting. Romance gets you in touch with what's best about being human. Just keep on treading girl, and try and put the hurt out of your mind. :)

  13. I'm sorry you had to go through that, Donna. Seems to me that someone who doesn't like romance as a genre won't be able to give you helpful feedback on what does or doesn't work in a romance manuscript! Don't let it get to you.

    And thanks for the picture of the condescending giraffe--that made me laugh out loud.

  14. You handled that beautfully, Donna, and I stole your "condescending giraffe" pic. Super!

  15. Hi Donna, We follow each other on twitter. I saw a tweet from you a few minutes ago and didn't recognize the picture. So I click on your profile, follow the link, and to my surprise, I realize you are a fellow Campaigner!

    Thank you for sharing all the comments on genres and writing styles. I believe that writers are creative artists, and the only limitation to the craft is our own creativity. If our creative muse leads us in one direction or another, we should follow her as we never know who our work will touch and in what way.

    Happy authoring, from your fellow Campaigner, Gary Gauthier.

  16. Aaah, it sounds like you got some great advice. Romance is part of almost everyone's lives. And women in particular are drawn to relationships.
    It's a tricky genre to even write. At least to write well and it sounds like yours is good, so ignore the naysayers.

  17. As L.G. already pointed out, romance and fantasy (both of which I write) get ragged on a lot. They also sell a lot. Never let the vocal minority make you forget how many people out there would love to see your romance when it's all polished and shiny.

    I suspect every genre has its judgmental giraffes, and that's besides literary and commercial fiction writers jeering at one another from across the fence. It's just a lot of noise.

  18. Genre intolerance. Just say no.

  19. For me, the best part of War and Peace was the romance. Hemmingway had romance in his books. Dickens, Henry James, I would guess the greatest books in the world deal with romance. The word "romance" has gotten a bad rap as far as I'm concerned. Even the Bible has Ruth and Song of Solomon!

  20. I appreciate romances that are grounded on commitment to a relationship rather than lust or convenience. If it's "clean" too, that just makes it even better.

    Of course, even if a romance novel doesn't have that, I certainly don't think it means it's not as good as the other.

    And comparing genres to each other is like comparing apples to oranges. It's not fair, and it doesn't make sense. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

  21. I've experienced a lot of elitism because I write romance. Let me tell you, there are some intelligent and wonderful writers out there that write it. Romance is not the "easy" genre. Keep writing. You're in with a good crowd. :)

  22. Listen to those wise words of encouragement!
    And I get it all the time. Science fiction either isn't taken seriously (which is no big deal to me) or people avoid my book because they don't like science fiction. And that's just one aspect of it. Fortunately, I know a lot fo awesome people who've read and enjoyed it anyway, even if it is science fiction.

  23. I don't understand the reasoning behind putting something down just because that person doesn't "find worth" in it, whatever that means.

    You've already gotten some great advice here, Donna. Let your mind and heart marinate in it. Write romance because it's your passion. Write romance because you love your husband's reaction. Write romance because for that one or two or fifty people that don't acknowledge it as "worthwhile fiction" there are multitudes that do - write romance for them.

    You are great, lady! Don't let one sourpuss (hee hee, love that word) distract you from your love.


  24. Shrug it off, Donna. Don't let critics get to you, especially when their criticism is about the genre. It always amazes me when people dislike an entire segment of literature. *shakes head* I've gotten it too, and I don't write romance.

  25. Well, we all have our own preferences about which genre to read or write, but why on earth would a person even feel entitled to give an opinion on a genre they don't like? It's a bit like walking into an Italian restaurant and turning your nose up because you don't like pasta.

    This person's judgment is clearly out of whack. One to file in the "ignore" category.

    BTW, I always get a sense that sci-fi (my genre) has a bad rap too. Just for geeks and not to be taken seriously. How about you?

  26. So what do you have to write to be taken seriously anyway? I don't read romance anymore, but when I was in my late teens through my twenties, it was practically all I read. Romance novels are what made me fall in love with reading. It's all too subjective. You can't take someone's opinion as law. Everyone has a different view. Romance is big business & has made countless authors very well known & very rich. Who would turn their nose up at that?

  27. Hmm that's tough when you ask someone to critique your book and they critique your genre instead. I say even if you aren't particularly fond of a genre, you can see great writing and areas of improvement. Great post! I especially liked the encouragement from your writer's group. Where would we be without awesome people like that?

  28. In my other life I've been an entrepreneur, having several businesses over the years. Whenever I started writing a new business plan friends, relatives and neighbors went out of their way to tell me it wouldn't work. Over time I came to realize the more "that won't work"s I got, the better the idea was! Yeah, this is about writing too. A lot of people will rush to say, that doesn't work, but really romance as a genre is HUGE and every other genre has romantic subplot. Stick with it!

  29. Donna ~
    Romance is a billion (yes that's with a 'B') dollar a year industry! (Got that stat from 'The Smart Bitches Guide To Romance - Beyond Heaving Bosoms) To all those who would dismiss...I'd just laugh.

    Romance is more than an industry, though. What one of us, from our pre-pubescent days didn't dream of our prince-charming? If we can capture that emotion - even if just for a night's enjoyment - and bring someone a smile, a belief that there are 'good-men' to be had, a happy ending, then what's the problem?

    Keep your chin up, Donna! ~ Nadja

  30. I've been meaning to write on this very same subject since months ago when Talli Roland hosted Liz Fichera on her blog. Talli has also written about this subject in a guest post - more along the lines of why she writes what she writes.

    Although romance is the biggest selling genre there is, it gets a bad rap. I write romance and have has feelings of inferiority about that for the longest time, but the fact is, people seem to enjoy what I write and if I have it right, it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said (to paraphrase)nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. Hard when you think about it, but if you let the criticism settle in your spirit then that's where the problems begin.

    My two cents worth? Write where your story leads you. Not everybody will like or understand it, but it's yours to tell.

    You have a smart and supportive bunch of friends, please listen to them.

  31. What lovely encouragement! Romance is so popular, I say keep at it and don't let anyone get you down. We all have our favorite things to write and to read - to each his own, right. :)

  32. 9/18 - I am posting this on everyone’s blog:
    My father has been in and out of the hospital 3 times in the past couple of weeks.
    I have not been able to visit each of you as I would have liked.
    Today, it looks as if I am going to have to take him in again so don’t expect to see any comments from me for a while longer. I WILL be back as soon as this passes, one way or another. I have several posts that should go up automatically for the next several weeks that I have held in reserve just for this occasion. kt

  33. At my very first critique group an older journalist told me I really should join another group for children's writers. And she kept telling me my writing was terrible for a couple years until the group chose me over her. It didn't turn out to be one genre she hated as much as anyone challenging her ideas. If you ask me, fantasy and SF benefit from romantic elements too.

  34. Wonderful post! It is funny how I feel ashamed at times to admit that I love romances but it is REALLY hard, if not impossible at times, to find clean ones that aren't cheesy.

    You're friends know exactly what they're talking about.


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